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Birdwatchers Zoom in on Starlings

This autumn, birdwatchers around Finland will be paying special attention to flocks of starlings. BirdLife Finland has chosen the starling as the 2006 species of the year, and is conducting a census of the birds' population in Finland.

The largest flock of European starlings spotted so far this season was a group of some 5,000 in the town of Piikkiö last Sunday. Flocks of more than 1,000 have been sighted in other parts of Western Finland as well.

The gregarious starlings mass in large flocks before starting their autumn migration, typically feeding on harvested fields. In late September and October, they head south, often wintering in Britain or the Benelux countries.

Many young starlings have already left, frequently heading to the Baltic countries earlier in the summer before flying further south in autumn.

Ornithologists are concerned about the starling, whose population in Finland has dropped by some 90 percent since 1970s. Early in that decade, flocks of some 20,000 birds could still be seen. So far in this decade, flocks have only contained a few thousand individuals. There are now an estimated 30,000-60,000 nesting pairs of starlings in Finland.

The main reason for the population crash seems to be the disappearance of pastures and meadows, which are essential for these dark speckled insectivores.

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